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The Toronto Preview

This is going to be an odd preview. A month ago, Toronto's roster was pretty different. Now, Toronto has been one of--if not the most--active teams over the past few weeks with their roster. Here are their moves (in no particular order):

  • Trading for Mark-Anthony Kaye from Colorado

  • Trading away Alejandro Pozuelo to Miami

  • Mutually terminating Carlos Salcedo's contract

  • Signing Lorenzo Insigne on a free (he's formerly of Napoli in Italian Serie A)

  • Signing Federico Bernardeschi on a free (he's formerly of Juventus in Italian Serie A)

  • Signing Domenico Criscito on a free after he mutually terminated his contract with Genoa (of Italian Serie A)

Anyone who has followed Serie A or international soccer will immediately recognize Insigne and Bernardeschi's names. You'll probably have some familiarity with Criscito too, although he never reached the heights of Insigne and Bernardeschi. All three, though, are hugely experienced and will add real talent to Toronto.


Basically, in a matter of weeks, Toronto has completely turned over its DP slots (Insigne and Bernardeschi now occupy them), has snagged a hugely experienced (albeit declining) defender in Criscito (shades of Fuchs with this one), and obtained a really good MLS starting midfielder in Kaye. In fact, Tom Bogert had this to say about Kaye:

He [Kaye] also had the best period of his MLS career under Bob Bradley at LAFC… the coach (and system) he reunites with in Toronto. It’s a player whom TFC expect to be firmly within the core for years to come.

Toronto's season is not going well and I'm not convinced these moves will do anything for them this year, although they are technically only 8 points out of 7th. However, they are setting themselves up for a big comeback starting next year.

 

Team

Possession

Shots per game

Shots on target per game

Goals for (xG)

Goals against (xGA)

Points (standing)

WhoScored team rating (SofaScore team rating)

Charlotte FC

53.1%

11.10

4.05

25 (24.6)

27 (26.9)

26 (8th in East)

6.55 (6.81)

Toronto FC

52.1%

9.67

4.10

26 (23.2)

39 (41.4)

19 (13th in East)

6.55 (6.78)

Toronto has a problem keeping the ball out of the back of their net. It's no surprise they decided to part ways with Salcedo, as a defensive DP in this defense doesn't make much sense. Toronto has allowed the 3rd most goals in the league, behind DC and San Jose, and Toronto's xGA shows it's not really a surprise. As a quick aside, DC has allowed 41 goals with an xGA of 30.2. What in the world is happening there?


Offensively, like Charlotte, Toronto can struggle to score. Both teams are in the bottom-middle of MLS in SoT/90, but Toronto is dead last in total shots per game. The possession numbers are also very similar and, after last week's domination in that area by Miami, I'm concerned about how much Charlotte will see the ball.

 

Over the past 3 games, according to MLS, Toronto has played in 3 different formations: a 4-4-2, a 4-4-3, and a 3-4-3. Combine this with the roster turnover and the uncertainty around which of the new signings will be available, I'm not even going to guess at what the formation on Saturday might look like.

Toronto vs. San Jose, 7/9, via MLS
Toronto vs. San Jose, 7/9, via MLS

Injury/Suspension

There isn't much on the injury front for Toronto, though the few injuries are notable. According to the MLS Availability Report, midfielders Noble Okello (lower body) and Insigne (lower body, calf) are listed as out, along with defender Chris Mavinga (lower body). Transfermarkt only has Insigne on their injury report.


While Insigne is listed as injured, it doesn't appear to be serious. The expectation is that he will be available on Saturday to make his debut for Toronto against Charlotte.


In a similar vein, Bernardeschi has just signed and it is unclear if he will be available for the Charlotte FC game. There is the hope, according to Bradley, that he will be able to debut on Saturday.


Chicago vs. Toronto, 7/13, via MLS
Chicago vs. Toronto, 7/13, via MLS

Attack

Toronto has 9 players listed as forward on their roster: Bernardeschi, Jesús Jiménez, Ayo Akinola, Deandre Kerr, Jordan Perruzza, Ifunanyachi Achara, Jayden Nelson, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, and Jacob Shaffelburg. Toronto lists Insigne as a midfielder, but he's an attacking one/forward, so he'll be included here. Meanwhile, Marshall-Rutty is listed as a forward on Toronto's site, but FBref has him as a defender. In looking at FBref's match logs and at MLS's lineups, it looks to me like he's a fullback. Maybe he's a forward at the youth level, but Toronto is trying to convert him? He's only 18, so this is a possibility but I'm really not sure. He will be discussed in the defender's section.


A quick inconsistency: FBref has Paul Rothrock listed as a forward, and he isn't on Toronto's roster (on MLS) at all. He got into two games in May for a total of 34 minutes, so I'm not sure if this was a COVID-related roster move. For what it's worth, according to his Wikipedia, he plays for Toronto II.

Toronto vs. Montréal, 7/16, via MLS
Toronto vs. Montréal, 7/16, via MLS

In general, Toronto's frontline is very young, aside from Jiménez and Bernardeschi, who are both 28 years old, and Insigne, who is 31. Achara is 24, Akinola and Shaffelburg are 22, Perruzza is 21, and Nelson and Kerr are 19.


Achara is the least played amongst the forwards, as he only has 9 appearances on the year with zero starts. He has yet to get a goal or assist on the year. With only 3 goals in his 24 career appearances, he's not someone Charlotte needs to be overly concerned about.


Akinola, Perruzza, and Shaffelburg have all made 13 appearances. Akinola has 7 starts, Perruzza has only 1, and Shaffelburg has 6. Between all three of them, only Akinola has scored (1 goal on the year) and only Shaffelburg has an assist (1 on the year).


Akinola had a really good year in 2020 when he had 9 goals in just 15 appearances (11 starts). He hasn't been able to replicate that form since, though, as he's made 24 appearances over the past two years (15 starts) and has only scored 4 goals.


Perruzza has made 18 career appearances for Toronto, but only has 1 goal, which came last year. Even in his early professional days when he played at the USL and USL League One levels, he didn't have a history of scoring. His best goal-return season was in 2021 when he was playing for San Antonio and Toronto II. He scored 3 goals in 8 appearances (3 starts); all those goals came with San Antonio (6 appearances). In fact, that's the odd thing about Perruzza. Coming into this season, he had a total of 21 appearances with just 8 starts. Those 8 appearances in 2021 were his most ever in a season. 2020 was the season where he had the most minutes played, at just 289. Honestly, I'm not quite sure what Toronto sees in him. I haven't watched him play, but there's simply nothing in his history that gives any indication of what he can do.


Shaffelburg has made 47 career appearances for Toronto with 26 starts at just 22 years old. Like Perruzza, there hasn't been a ton of end product, but he at least produced a bit last year, with 3 goals and 3 assists in 20 appearances (11 starts). With that said, he hasn't made a start since April and, when he was starting, he was playing as a left-back or wingback. Coming off the bench over the past few months, he has been mostly used as a wide attacker. Like Marshall-Rutty, I wonder if Toronto is or was playing with the idea of converting him from an attacker to a fullback. If so, it appears they've given up on that idea, at least for now.


Kerr is in his first season with Toronto and is doing well. At just 19, he's already made 16 appearances (9 starts) and scored three times. He's not particularly tall at just 5'11", however, he's a solidly built man (179 lbs). FBref has him playing on the outside a lot and he's good in the air (95th percentile for aerials won vs. other AMs/wingers). His passing still needs a lot of work (8th percentile for passes attempted, 10th percentile for passes completed), but he shows a good work rate. His defensive numbers, especially his pressures (81st percentile for pressures, 90th percentile for pressures in the attacking 3rd) and tackles (68th percentile for dribblers tackled, 89th percentile for percentage of dribblers tackled), show a player who is willing to track back and can add value while his offensive game develops.

Nelson heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore
Nelson heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore

Nelson is in his 3rd season with Toronto but has already surpassed his career appearances and has blown by his career number of starts. Coming into this season, he had 14 appearances and 4 starts over 2 years. This year alone he's at 19 appearances with 16 starts. His end product isn't developed yet (1 goal and 2 assists for his career, all from this year), however, he's an incredibly young winger/wide player, so his lack of end product isn't necessarily a surprise.


As his heatmap shows, he's a player who prefers the left side of the pitch but will drift into the left-forward channel a lot.

Nelson defensive percentiles vs. other AMs/wingers, past 365 days
Nelson defensive percentiles vs. other AMs/wingers, past 365 days

He's a tricky player, as his dribbling percentiles are off the charts: 94th percentile for dribbles completed, 92nd percentile for dribbles attempted, 94th percentile for players dribbled past, 98th percentile for nutmegs, and 83rd percentile for carries. He's obviously not perfect, as his 63rd percentile for successful dribble percentage shows, however, at only 19 he's also not a finished product. Additionally, he's doing this on a relatively high number of touches (72nd percentile for touches).


Defensively, he also shines. He has a huge weak point of being dribbled past (4th percentile), but aside from that everything else is incredible, especially for a 19-year-old! He hounds opponents and, coupled with Kerr's pressure rate on the other wing, it's clear that Toronto expects their wide players to try to win the ball back quickly and high up the pitch.


As you might expect from a player so young, Nelson's passing numbers aren't great, however, they're nothing to scoff at. He's in the 71st percentile for passes completed, 88th percentile for pass completion percentage, 90th percentile for pass completion percentage on short passing, and 77th percentile for pass completion percentage on long passes. He doesn't attempt a ton of long passes (32nd percentile) and his passing in the opponent's half needs improvement (60th percentile for passes into the final third, 43rd percentile for passes into the penalty area, 64th percentile for progressive passes), but, again, he's 19. He oozes talent and potential.


Jiménez is a nailed-on starter for Toronto. He joined Toronto this year from Polish side Górnik Zabrze and has started all 21 of Toronto's MLS games. He's off to a really good start for his MLS career, too. He's always been a solid goal contributor, as he had 37 goals (and 21 assists) over 121 appearances (115 starts). In fact, over his 4 seasons with Górnik, he never had fewer than 12 goal+assist contributions. 2020 was probably his best year as a professional, as he had 12 goals and 6 assists over 37 appearances. His first year with Toronto is looking like that season, as he already has 8 goals and 3 assists.


Jiménez is a big guy at 6'0" and 181 lbs. Interestingly, that size doesn't really translate into his aerial ability, as he's in the 34th percentile for aerials won and the 20th percentile for percentage of aerials won.


To be honest, there's nothing that jumps off the page when it comes to Jiménez. Sure he's in the 88th percentile for goals per shot and the 82nd percentile for goals per shot on target and he takes his shots from relatively close to the goal (88th percentile for average shot distance). Those are all good qualities for a striker to possess, however, his goals per 90 are in the 55th percentile. His shots total is in the 15th percentile. His shots on target are in the 30th percentile. He's not a bad player by any means and, as his career shows, he will contribute. I just don't think he's a game-changer. However, he doesn't have to be, especially with the way Toronto is building around him. Nelson shows he has qualities that can change a game, while Insigne definitely does. Bernardeschi's career at Juventus was underwhelming (as I'll discuss below), but he does have serious talent. With the talent Toronto is putting around Jiménez, he will score goals.

Bernardeschi heatmap, 2019-20, via SofaScore
Bernardeschi heatmap, 2019-20, via SofaScore

Ah Federico, how I wanted you at Roma. Years ago, Bernardeschi was the hot name in Italian soccer. He had come off an 11 goal, 4 assist season at Fiorentina. He was quick, tricky, and young. At the time, there were links to Roma, but, alas, as usually happens he ended up at that dirty Old Lady. Unfortunately for Bernardeschi, I don't think his time at Juventus was a success. He never really broke into the starting lineup and his end product never reached the heights of that 2016-17 Fiorentina season.


Over 134 appearances (only 64 starts), Bernardeschi only scored 8 goals with12 assists. For a €40 million dollar man (back in 2017, no less), that just isn't good enough. Over the past 3 seasons, Bernardeschi has 2 goals and that includes a 27 appearances season in 2020-21 with zero. XG data doesn't go back to his Fiorentina days, but I'd be curious to know if he just had a fluke of a season in 2017-18. He did have a 12 goal, 7 assist season for Crotone in Serie B as a 19-year-old, but at the top flight level, that 2017-18 season is the only season he's gotten close to double digit goals. If you remove that season, Bernardeschi's best goal-return season is his first year with Juve, when he had 4 in 22 appearances. He's had 4 over the past 5 seasons (only including league games).

Bernardeschi heatmap, 2020-21, via SofaScore
Bernardeschi heatmap, 2020-21, via SofaScore

Bernardeschi has been a fixture on the Italian national team too, but he hasn't really played a ton. He's got 38 career appearances for the Azzurri, but only 18 starts. In those appearances he has 6 goals and 6 assists.


At the end of the day, Bernardeschi has talent. His time at Juventus could have been a case of a player who needs a team built around him. Maybe at Toronto, he becomes more of a focal point and performs closer to the player he was with Fiorentina. Or maybe he's just a solid, but unspectacular player. At only 28, he still has a number of potential good years left. People are going to make a big deal of this move, and I don't think it's a bad one. However, Bernardeschi isn't Insigne, or Cucho, or Bale. This is a player who has clear talent but has never really produced consistently. He may end up a dynamite signing for Toronto, but I don't believe it's anywhere close to a sure thing.

Bernardeschi heatmap, 2021-22, via SofaScore
Bernardeschi heatmap, 2021-22, via SofaScore

I will be curious to see where Toronto plays him. As his heatmaps over the past 3 seasons show, Juventus put him on the right wing, then the left wing, then all over. Insigne is a left-sided player, so chances are it won't be there. With Nelson having primarily played on the left wing, I wonder if Nelson is pushed to the right and Bernardeschi is played as a 10 or second striker. Nelson is too talented not to play, so unless they plan of changing Insigne's position, which seems silly, this seems the most logical to me.


This finally brings us to Insigne. People are going to lump Bernardeschi and Insigne together and that is going to be a huge disservice to Insigne. Whereas Bernardeschi is mostly a big name with a poor track record, Insigne is a legitimate star.


Over 337 appearances (278 starts) for Napoli, Insigne scored 96 goals and had 76 assists. All as 5'4" and 130 pounds left-sided attacker. There are some diminutive players in MLS (think Maxi Moralez of NYCFC, Luciano Acosta of Cincinnati), but none are as good as Insigne. He's had multiple seasons of 20+ goal contributions (i.e., assists plus goals) for Napoli while they've had their best run since the Maradona days.


I don't usually do this but I'm going to talk about Insgine's full FBref scouting report. Note that this is him compared to attacking midfielders/wingers over the past 365 days for the Big 5 European leagues (England, Italy, France, Spain, Germany). This is how Insigne stacks up against literally the best-of-the-best in world soccer (spoiler alert: he's amazing).

Insigne standard and shooting percentiles, past 365 days, versus AMs/wingers, Big 5 Euro Leagues
Insigne standard and shooting percentiles, past 365 days, versus AMs/wingers, Big 5 Euro Leagues
Insigne passing percentiles, past 365 days, versus AMs/wingers, Big 5 Euro Leagues
Insigne passing percentiles, past 365 days, versus AMs/wingers, Big 5 Euro Leagues
Insigne pass types percentiles, past 365 days, versus AMs/wingers, Big 5 Euro Leagues
Insigne pass types percentiles, past 365 days, versus AMs/wingers, Big 5 Euro Leagues
Insigne GCA and SCA percentiles, past 365 days, versus AMs/wingers, Big 5 Euro Leagues
Insigne GCA and SCA percentiles, past 365 days, versus AMs/wingers, Big 5 Euro Leagues
Insigne defense percentiles, past 365 days, versus AMs/wingers, Big 5 Euro Leagues
Insigne defense percentiles, past 365 days, versus AMs/wingers, Big 5 Euro Leagues
Insigne possession percentiles, past 365 days, versus AMs/wingers, Big 5 Euro Leagues
Insigne possession percentiles, past 365 days, versus AMs/wingers, Big 5 Euro Leagues
Insigne miscellaneous percentiles, past 365 days, versus AMs/wingers, Big 5 Euro Leagues
Insigne miscellaneous percentiles, past 365 days, versus AMs/wingers, Big 5 Euro Leagues

Toronto have literally signed one of the best wide attackers in the world. Yes, he is 31. Yes, that means he's on the downslope of his career. No, I don't care. Unless there is a dramatic drop-off in his fitness, I wouldn't be surprised if he's the best player in MLS over the next two to three years.


I don't have much to say about those percentiles because I think they're pretty self-explanatory (he's an amazing footballer), however, the one question I do have is how he will fit into the defensive structure of Toronto. As we've seen with Nelson and Kerr, Toronto expects its wide players to track back and pressure the ball. Insigne's percentiles don't show a player that does that. With that said, I have two thoughts:

  1. I would imagine that discussions between the club, Bradley, and Insigne have already taken place about the expectations in this area.

  2. He may not have been asked to do this type of duty at Napoli.

With these 2 thoughts in mind, I don't have much concern that he won't adapt to Toronto's style of play.


Finally, the last hesitation I have about Insigne does have to do with his size. If Insigne were even 2 inches taller, I'm not sure he spends his career at Napoli. His numbers show a player with the talent to play at any of the biggest clubs in the world and it feels like only his size held him back. MLS is a fast, physical league. There is always a chance he doesn't adapt to it. Again, though, he won't be the only small player in the league and he's been small his entire life. If he can make it in Serie A, I don't see why he can't in MLS. If I had to put money on it, I would wager that Insigne quickly becomes a dominant force in MLS.


Midfield

Toronto lists 7 players--not including Insigne--as midfielders: Themi Antonoglou, Kosi Thompson, Luca Petrasso, Okello, Kaye, Jonathan Osorio, and Michael Bradley. FBref lists Steffen Yeattes and Mehdi Essoussi as midfielders, however, neither player is on Toronto's site. Essoussi hasn't appeared for them in MLS and Yeattes has 2 appearances for 33 total minutes. I'm assuming their cases are similar to Rothrock.


I'm going to discuss Thompson and Petrasso in the defenders' section, as that is how FBref has them listed and it appears that both of them have been playing mostly as fullbacks or wingbacks, though occasionally as wingers. Antonoglou would also fit into the Thompson/Petrasso category of a listed midfielder playing in defense, however, he has 1 appearance on the year for 11 minutes. This is his only time in MLS, so there isn't much to discuss with him. He did have 3 goals and an assist last year for Toronto II, but I doubt we see him Saturday. That leaves us with 4 players to really about: Okello, Kaye, Osorio, and Bradley.


Okello is listed as injured on MLS and hasn't played since the beginning of April. He has 4 appearances on the season with 1 start. For his career, he has never scored a goal at the MLS level but did have an assist last year in 14 appearances for Toronto.

Osorio heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore
Osorio heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore

Osorio is a Toronto lifer. He's been playing with the club since 2013 when, as a 20-year-old, he made 28 appearances (18 starts). Over his 10 seasons with Toronto, Osorio has appeared in 252 games and made 201 starts. He's scored 38 goals and had 32 assists. His best year was in 2018 when he had 10 goals and 6 assists in 30 games. That season is very much an outlier for Osorio, as his next highest tally is 5 goals in a season, which he's done 3 times including this year. Along with those 5 goals this year, he has 4 assists. Osorio is just a good MLS player, as he usually has around 6-10 goals plus assists per year.


Osorio will pop up all over the pitch, but does favor the left side. FBref has him playing as a defensive or central midfielder and his heatmap agrees with that. Osorio touches the ball a lot (88th percentile), passes well (86th percentile for passes completed), carries the ball well (93rd percentile for carries, 96th percentile for progressive carrying distance), and scores (93rd percentile for goals).


It should be noted that his passing numbers are mostly built on short passing, as he's in the 99th percentile for short passes completed and attempted and the 83rd percentile for short pass completion percentage. However, when we move to medium passing, his numbers take a sharp decline. He's in the 57th percentile for medium passes completed, the 55th percentile for medium passes attempted, and the 46th percentile for medium pass completion percentage. Then when we look at his long passing, the numbers are even worse: 22nd percentile for long passes completed, 13th percentile for long passes attempted, and 64th percentile for long pass completion percentage. He is in the 74th percentile for key passes, the 90th percentile for passes into the penalty area, and the 86th percentile for progressive passes, so it's an odd passing profile. My gut tells me these poor percentiles in the medium and long distances have more to do with his role rather than his ability.


Defensively, Osorio is okay with his best attribute being his ability to pressure (81st percentile for successful pressures, 89th percentile for successful pressure percentage). He's not an adept tackler (43rd percentile for tackles, 54th percentile for tackles won), but he's definitely serviceable.

Kaye heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore
Kaye heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore

Mark-Anthony Kaye is another of Toronto's new, big acquisitions. The 27-year-old Canadian international has really come into his own over the past few years and has found himself a staple of Canada's World Cup team. Kaye is mostly deployed in the midfield by both club and country but interestingly has also played (very) sparingly on the wing. Without having watched every game of his, I would assume these cameos on the wing were to help control and/or see out a game.


Kaye is on his 3rd MLS team. He started his MLS career with LAFC before joining Colorado mid-2021 season. He spent basically a year's worth of time in Colorado (32 appearances, 29 starts over parts of 2 seasons), before his move to Toronto. Kaye's best seasons, at least from a goal contributions aspect, came under Bradley at LAFC. In 2018, he had 2 goals and 3 assists. That ballooned to 4 goals and 8 assists in 2019. 2020 saw a 3-goal, 4 assists campaign (in only 16 appearances). He failed to score or record an assist with LAFC in 2020 (10 appearances) before being traded to Colorado. In Colorado, Kaye scored a total of 4 goals and had 2 assists over his 32 appearances. While the goal and assist returns aren't gaudy, Kaye is a central/defensive midfielder, not an attacking one. As such, his 3-4 goals from that area are valuable. I would expect his reunion with Bradley to get him back to his scoring (and assisting) ways.

Kaye heatmap, 2019, via SofaScore
Kaye heatmap, 2019, via SofaScore

I do find Kaye's heatmap interesting when compared to Osorio's above. They don't take up the exact same positions on the pitch, however, they are very similar. Both like the left-hand side of the pitch a bit more, though Kaye will drift to the right a bit more than Osorio. Osorio gets up the pitch more this year, however, look at Kaye's map from 2019, when he had his best goal contribution season (to the left). He can do that job. It should also be remembered that the majority of the 2022 map is based on his time in Colorado. It'll be interesting to see how the role and heatmap change in Toronto.


In his first two games with the club, Kaye played in a midfield with Osorio and Bradley, then took Osorio's spot alongside Bradley. I'm curious how Toronto views Kaye in the long-term, meaning, is he an Osorio successor or a complement to him? Bradley and Osorio are both 30+, so this midfield isn't built for the long-term. With that said, Osorio should still have at least 2-3 good years left in the tank. Kaye isn't a Bradley replacement, in my opinion. His passing is subpar and his defensive ability is average. He's a good player, but not someone who necessarily excels as a 6.

Bradley heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore
Bradley heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore

Speaking of Bradley, at 34 he's still going. I have mixed feelings about Bradley. On the one hand, I think he's always been a solid--even sometimes above average--player. However, I think he hit the USMNT at a time of transition, and at a certain point he became the default "best American." He never was and never should have been that.


My viewpoint is also colored by his time with Roma, where in 2012-13 he made 30 appearances for the Giallorossi. He was...not good. My primary memory of Bradley was that he was all-energy and ran around the pitch like a chicken with his head cut off. It led to a lot of chances and goals by the opposition. He wasn't bad per se, but it became clear that Roma was above his ability. I'm sure other American fans will remember that differently and disagree.

Bradley passing percentiles, past 365 days in MLS, vs. midfielders
Bradley passing percentiles, past 365 days in MLS, vs. midfielders

The one thing that must be said about Bradley, though, is that everywhere he's gone, he's (eventually) been a starter. He began his career with the MetroStars in MLS, making 30 starts as a 17-year-old. He moved to Heerenveen in the Eredivisie for 3 years. It took him two years to become a starter, but he did make 21 appearances for Heerenveen in 2006-07 as a 19 year old. He burst onto the scene with them the following year, making 33 starts and scoring 15 goals (!!!!!). He has 42 career goals, so basically a third of his career goals came in this one season. To further how ridiculous this season was in terms of goal scoring, he has 13 career goals for Toronto over 9 seasons, meaning, in almost a decade he still hasn't matched what he did in one year.


He moved to Borussia Mönchengladbach for the 2008-09 season, spending the next 2.5 years there. With Gladbach, he made 76 appearances (71 starts) over those 2.5 years. He was loaned to Aston Villa for the latter part of the 2010-11 season but didn't really feature. He then joined Chievo for a year (35 appearances, 34 starts), before moving on to Roma for 1.5 years (41 appearances, 29 starts). Finally, in 2014 he joined Toronto where he's been ever since. Over his 9 seasons with Toronto, Bradley has made 228 appearances with 224 starts.

Bradley possession percentiles, past 365 days in MLS, vs. midfielders
Bradley possession percentiles, past 365 days in MLS, vs. midfielders

In my opinion, Bradley's greatest attribute has always been his energy. It's why he struggled with Roma because he couldn't harness it and stay tactically sound. It's probably why he's been so successful in MLS, though, as the physicality and athleticism of the league lend themselves to that style of play (more than a league like Serie A anyway).


Energy isn't his only skill, though, as his passing and possession percentiles (above and to the left, respectively) show. In particular, those percentiles for short and medium passing are outstanding, as are his touch numbers. At 34, who knows how long Bradley has left. I will say that as long as his fitness remains, he can probably still be an effective player. His skills (specifically, his endurance, avoidance of injury, and passing) and role lend themselves to aging gracefully.


Defense

Toronto list 6 defenders on their website, with one (Luke Singh) loaned out. The other five are Criscito, Shane O'Neill, Chris Mavinga, Lukas MacNaughton, and Kadin Chung. As discussed above, I will be adding Marshall-Rutty, Thompson, and Petrasso here.


Mavinga (9 appearances, 9 starts), MacNaughton (14 appearances, 9 starts), and O'Neill (17 appearances, 15 starts) are the central defenders. Petrasso and Thompson have both played as fullbacks, wingbacks, and occasionally wide midfielders. Petrasso is deployed on the left, with Thomspon on the right. Marshall-Rutty has played as a fullback or wingback on both sides. Chung and Criscito have been used as fullbacks, but occasionally as a CB. Chung is a right-sided player, while Criscito is a left-sided one. Criscito's use as a fullback/center-back is unsurprising, considering his versatility in this respect has always been part of his game.


To be honest, I'm going to keep it short in this section for 2 reasons: 1) I've gone long in the previous 2 sections, and 2) this is a bad defense. Again, they have given up 39 goals on a 41.4 xGA. Being that they've parted ways with Salcedo and signed two attack DPs, it looks to me like they're going to try to solve their defensive issues by getting possession and outscoring the opposition. It's not a bad strategy.


With a defense that has given up this many goals, I'm not sure what we really gain from looking too deeply into any of the metrics. O'Neill is probably their best defender, while everyone else is average to below-average. Many are below average defensively and when you think about it, that's not surprising. Considering the fact that Toronto is listing many of these guys as forwards or midfielders, but playing them as defenders, one would expect to see decent offensive numbers from these players with poor defensive numbers. The good news for them is that many of these guys they're trying to convert are young, so it may work out in the long term. Right now, though, it's a struggle.


Finally, between all of these players, there is one goal (Thompson) and 5 assists (Petrasso with 2, Thompson with 1, O'Neill with 1, and Chung with 1).


Goalkeeping

Toronto has 3 goalkeepers: Greg Ranjitsingh (0 appearances), Quentin Westberg (6 starts), and Alex Bono (15 starts).


Ranjitsingh is 29 and has 5 career MLS appearances (2 in 2019 with Orlando and 3 in 2020 with Minnesota).


Westberg is 36 and is in his 4th season with Toronto. He started a majority of games for them in 2019 (28 starts), before falling to 20 starts in 2020, 10 last year, and 6 this year. In 2019 he had a PSxG+/- of -3.1 and he currently has a PSxG+/- of -2.2. The fact that this number is so large in so few starts does not speak well of his ability. He's never had a positive PSxG+/- and last year was his best at 0.0.


Bono has been with Toronto his entire career. He was their starter as a 22-year-old in 2017 when they finished first in points, as well as the following year. When Westberg joined, he was relegated to backup, making only 6 starts (7 appearances) in 2019 and 3 in 2020. He regained his position last year, making 24 starts.


Bono's an inconsistent goalkeeper. His PSxG+/- over the past five years is as follows: -4.1, +0.9, +2.3, -2.2, and +4.5. During this same time, his goals allowed per 90 are 1.67 (27 apps), 1.78 (7 apps), 0.0 (3 apps), 1.83 (24 apps), and 1.87 (15 apps). It's especially interesting to note that his GA90 over the past 2 years is almost the same (1.83 vs. 1.87) but his PSxG+/- is vastly different (-2.2 vs. +4.5). Over the past 365 days, Bono has faced a lot of shots (89th percentile for shots on target against) and made a lot of saves (95th percentile for saves) against shots that are above average in difficulty (69th percentile for PSxG/SoT). If you look at just 2022 MLS, though, he's in the 99th percentile for shots on target against, the 96th percentile for saves, and the 92nd percentile for PSxG/SoT. Basically, even though the defense in front of him is poor, Bono is doing an excellent job, all things considered, of keeping his team in games.


It's always difficult to parse out goalkeeping ability versus defensive ability using just numbers. What I will say, though, is that Bono appears to be playing well. Charlotte should get a good number of chances against him, but don't be surprised if he makes some good, and maybe even unexpected, saves.


Conclusion

Well, it's taken to the conclusion for me to really talk about that Miami game. Charlotte was outplayed against Miami and, in a vacuum, didn't deserve anything from that match. However, they almost walked away with a point and it would have been huge. I hate calling any games "must win," but we do need points on the road if we're going to make the playoffs. This trip to Toronto represents as good a chance as any to get a road win and some much-needed points.


If we were playing Toronto 3 weeks ago, before they had Kaye, Insigne, and Bernardeschi, I'd feel much more confident. As it is, Kaye will play, Insigne is likely to, and my gut tells me Bernardeschi will make an appearance off the bench. Two big-name debutants at home feels dangerous to me.


Health is also a question for this team, specifically with Corujo. The fact that he's come off two games in a row worries me and he could probably due with a game or two off. That leaves a problem at CB. I've been a defender of Makoun, but he doesn't look good right now. Our best option is probably a CB pairing of Fuchs and Walkes, which leaves question marks at LB.


If we weren't playing a team with the speed and trickery of Toronto's wide players, I would almost advocate for Afful at LB and Lindsey at RB. As it stands, though, I don't know that a left-sided partnership of a 36-year-old (Fuchs) and a soon-to-be 36-year-old (Afful's birthday is the 24th) is smart against this opponent. Mora is probably the answer at LB. If we go by the recent history of starting XIs under Lattanzio, Afful seems likely to start at RB, which also worries me. I might be in the minority in thinking Afful has been fine at RB, but him having to go against Nelson and/or Insigne on that side scares me. Lindsey's youth and athleticism would give me more confidence (although if it's Insigne on the left, I won't be confident regardless of who starts).


I really don't know how to feel about this game. Toronto has not been good, but you could argue this isn't the same Toronto team. There's also the hangover effect blowing the game in Miami might have on this team. Conversely, the blown game could give them something to prove. Let's hope it's the latter.


Prediction: Toronto 1 - Charlotte 2

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